GIRARD, Ohio – Pull back the plunger and put the silver ball in play.
That’s what Past Times Arcade did June 1, opening to the public and launching a new destination for fun in the Mahoning Valley.
The arcade boasts 600 pinball machines, some dating back almost a century and others just released. Guests can play most of them and stay as long as they want for the price of admission, which is $20 for adults (17 and older) and $10 for ages 6 to 16.
Rob Berk, president of Berk Enterprises of Warren, is the man behind the new attraction. A lifelong fan of pinball, he has amassed a collection of well over a thousand machines.
The arcade is his way of giving them the platform they deserve while allowing others to enjoy them. “I’ve been collecting pinball machines since the ’70s,” Berk said. “They were sitting in my warehouse when I decided it’s time to share them with the world.”
He would drive past the vacant Santisi’s IGA supermarket building at 419 S. State St. in Girard almost every day and often entertained the thought of buying it and turning it into a pinball arcade. One day he decided the time was right. So he bought the building and put his plan in motion.
Berk said he hopes Past Times becomes a destination for people in the Mahoning Valley and well beyond.
“It’s something fun for all ages,” he said. “When you’re wondering where to go … come here, let loose and have a good time.”
Berk’s familiarity with pinball began in the 1960s. His family had a pinball machine in their house when he was a young boy.
“I got into pinball in a big way when I was in college,” he said. He bought his first machine about 50 years ago.
Past Times has hundreds of electromechanical machines from the 1960s and 1970s, plus modern solid state video games from the 1980s to the present day. There are also some antiques and rare models that visitors are not permitted to play.
The rarest is a 1931 game that was built by a company in Youngstown. It’s the first coin-operated pinball game made and is for display only.
The antique machine, called “Whiffle,” does not have flippers; the player had to shake and nudge it to move the ball and score points.
While Past Times is not the only pinball arcade and museum in the nation, Berk said it’s among the largest.
Even though the 30,000-square-foot building was given a complete renovation at a cost of over $1 million, Past Times has a strong retro vibe.
As the project lead, Mike Hale of Cambridge Springs, Pa., brought the arcade to fruition. Seeing it finally open was an emotional moment.
“This is huge,” he said. “We’ve been grinding away, and to see people come through the door today and enjoy all the work we’ve done is so cool.”
The entire project, which included replacing the roof and constructing a mezzanine level warehouse and repair shop, was completed in about a year.
The arcade includes a spacious concession area. “It has that old-time Americana diner feel, with ’70s music playing,” Hale said. “That’s the atmosphere we were going for.”
Pictured at top: Rob Berk bought his first pinball machine 50 years ago. He owns more than 1,000.